Automation, especially in the form of fundraising software, has significantly impacted the way nonprofits operate. Much like the transactional tools of any business, the assorted programs available to charities efficiently enable donors to contribute and then receive a receipt soon thereafter. If this is the extent of a particular software’s capabilities, however, it may be unnecessarily costing your organization money.
Focusing solely on the transaction in fundraising will produce a minimal amount of data (probably a first and last name and a card number to complete the exchange). While these pieces are crucial, they secure only a single transaction. A deeper engagement with donors and event attendees, on the other hand, yields greater potential for building retention.
Fundraising software can and should strengthen relationships between a nonprofit and its constituents. Data from these programs will ideally identify donation patterns, track major gifts, and ultimately sketch a more colorful picture of the individuals in the donor base. The question, then, is how to find the right software package for your organization. Consider the following points during the vetting process.
When is new software in order?
Charities typically begin looking for a change when their current software has started to falter or when it simply does not do enough. Perhaps your organization needs a more affordable platform, or one with a greater scale or more intuitive interface. However, it is best to avoid waiting until the system in place stops doing its job. Moving over to a new program will be much easier without having to start from scratch.
By pinpointing the objective, whether it’s for a cost-effective replacement, an upgrade, or the implementation of your first program, you can increase your confidence in finding the best option.
What will the budget allow?
Many nonprofits have a board of directors past which all financial decisions must be run. Because fundraising software entails a serious investment, knowing the budget will help narrow the search to one that can ultimately gain board approval.
Setting a price range is just the start, however, since many vendors will present a base cost when pitching their products. Be sure to ask as many questions as possible and take into account any hidden or backend costs, such as training, IT support, and update rates—some companies that offer the lowest upfront end up being the most expensive in the long run.
Who will use it?
A key factor in deciding which software to use is determining how many people the change will affect. Before looking at options, take an inventory of all staff members who use the current platform in any capacity and at any frequency. This will vary from group to group, but the important thing is to have every possible source of data and detail.
Each team member will likely have some input on what features would be most helpful to them in a new system. Having an accurate head count will also help, as many software developers price their packaging based on the number of prospective users within an organization.
What features are needed?
After consulting with your staff, compile their thoughts and add anything else that would most benefit the organization. Think of how many donors the program will need to support and how much growing room to leave. Another important item to address is specifically what type of fundraising software will be the best match. Some companies specialize in donor databases, while others allow you to plan for events or track contributions from mobile devices.
With these points in mind, create a list and ask to see that a product meets each item when software developers demonstrate their products. Otherwise, they may only highlight the strengths of the system, leaving your needs unaddressed.
What will the transition entail?
Introducing change, especially with something as significant as fundraising software, will inevitably be a challenge. In some cases, the thought of shifting to something new may deter nonprofits from seriously exploring their options.
One way to ease the adjustment is to know how intensive it will be to migrate data and complete training on the new product. Consider also the amount of support included in the package. Will it benefit or hinder your operations?
Establishing these facts further shape the decision of whether or not you purchase the software. Plus, it will help set realistic expectations for the transition.
Do other organizations trust it?
If a particular company appears to be able to meet the needs of your organization, see what their reputation is outside of the demo. Ask them for references in order to form a better idea of what investing in their product will look like in the long term—even a list of other nonprofits that use the software can be valuable. Ask yourself: Do they have reputable clients? Would you want the name of your organization to appear alongside the others?